STUDIES AND RESEARCH
The Pictorial Face of Reality — Dogma approach
In 1969, Ferenc Grunwalsky, along with
other Hungarian filmmakers and writers published a proclamation
in Filmkultúra, the country’s most. acknowledged film magazine
at the time, in which they urged for the development of
documentaries with social content based on pure realism.
In their words, they wanted to show »the pictorial face
of reality«. The Danish Dogma group recently reinforced
the problem. The essay attempts to show the complexity
of the statement. The concept, and therefore the use of
documentarism, has at least two very different meanings.
The most common view is that documentary shows real events,
describes facts without any interference of the author.
The goal is to show parts of material reality as they are
found in the world. There is also another view that states
that the task of documentary is to show what cannot be
captured by any pictorial representation, that is — mental
states and emotions.
Using this approach, the author is
trying to recognise some spiritual attributes within the
unfolding events, to see facts in a more subjective way.
Let us call them respectively objective and subjective documentaries.
Subjectivism of the »pictorial face of reality« was the
crucial point raised by the Dogma approach. The question
was: what happens when we have a content that is pure fiction
(not in a way that it cannot happen, but simply that it
did not happen) and a form that is very expressive and
documentary? How do form and content interact? The solution
Dogma found was to radicalise the reality in a way that
we start from fiction that is realistic, and through documentary-like
expressive form make our experiences very intense and direct,
in order to produce a hyperrealist effect that bursts like
a bubble. What did this expressive form consist of? A convention
developed according to which handy cam and video technique
were considered more documentarist and closer to reality
than classical camera movement.
had a feature of instant shoot-and-carry accessibility
to almost everyone. In Grunwalsky’s opinion, the use of
VHS camera worked against classical storytelling. However,
if we were not within the boundaries of experimental filmmaking,
we could state that the urge to be understood and accessible
remained, no matter how counter-classic the style and technique
might be. The Dogma group refused to discuss content, and
in Vinterberg’s Festen it was clear why — in order
to save content from form’s art-for-art’s-sake the
director set up a rather classical mise en scene with
logically transparent plot. ’The essence of my dramaturgical
considerations is that I want to chuck out the most superfluous,
habitual constraints and escape from rigidity, but at the
same time film is a means of communication. Joyce also
wanted to escape from rigidity, but it gradually grows
difficult to communicate with others apart from yourself’,
said Lars von Trier.
The balance between classical storytelling
and radical form was rarely achieved as harmonically as
in Dogma movies. Content sometimes overrode form with its
nihilistic but shocking sequences. The handy cam technique
rose above a simple function; it achieved the status of
style, and served as a mirror for our emotions (without
sentimentalism and in best cases without unnecessary irony)
on a solid and clear-cut basis of our built-in capacities
that we collected through our evolution as humans. What
higher complexity other than this can be imagined? The
Dogma 95 was an antidogmatic program, but it was only a
starting point in a game of confronting viewers through
films with all the complexity and necessary radical experience
of themselves as sensual and spiritual beings.